Monday, 8 October 2012

Incredible hand-made soba @ Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar

Oh Shimbashi! Your quiet decor, your dim and cozy atmosphere. Your sweet, hand-written white board signs. That are missing the letter 's' in 'wholesome'. Your authentically Japanese staff, and authentically large Japanese sake collection. Your in-house flour mill. Your communal high table.

I could write an ode to you, Shimbashi, and I haven't even started talking about the food yet! Sigh. Let me count the beautiful ways!

Shimbashi is a fairly new trinket to open up in Melbourne's CBD. Tucked in the middle of Liverpool Street, it's a short and sweet walk away from one of the main roads.

The inside is small and simple. Unpretentious. Which I love! The focus is on the food, no distractions necessary. Not to say they ignored the design aspect, but rather, kept it subdued.
The dim lighting gives a great mood to the cozy room. Take your special someone on a date here!
Once we settled in our table, the waitress came over with some complimentary horenso no ohitashi. A typical appetiser or side dish of blanched spinach that's been chilled and tossed with some dashi and soy, and topped with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). One of my favourites! My momma would often order more of this just for me when I was growing up.

A nice surprise, since I often find complimentary appetisers are more common in Manila than they are here in Melbourne.
To start our meal, the obligatory order of edamame ($6.00). Sadly, they were way overdone and too soft!
Fresh oysters with yuzu citrus sauce ($2.50 per piece). Cute tiny little things. (Was that a backhanded compliment?)
My guilty pleasure. Takoyaki ($8.00) - deep fried octopus balls topped with sauce and mayo. Wasn't as memorable as the ones we had at Shyun, but good nonetheless.

And Shimbashi definitely has major presentation points for this dish! Served in a little skillet over a bed of greens and a generous grab of katsuobushi? Very nice. I love those dried bonito flakes.

We ordered a bottle of nigori sake, a tip I picked up from Lauren at Footscray Food Blog. It's a variety of sake that remains unfiltered, leaving the grain solids that make for its appearance and 'creamier' texture. Nigori roughly translating into 'cloudy'.

I don't drink sake as often as I'd like to, though when I do, I usually really enjoy it. This was no exception! If anything, this trumps many other sake experiences I've had!
The chilled nigori sake was milky, sweet and tart all at the same time. Slightly fruity. I'd say it was a little milder in taste in comparison to the usual clear sake. Lovely. delightful. Any other synonym along those lines. A new favourite, up in the ranks with other drinks like ouzo and galliano.
On to the star of the show. The whole reason I was so keen to make the trip to this particular restaurant. 

Shimbashi offers fresh, hand-made soba noodles every day, and at the helm is Chef Taka Kumayama, who trained under soba master Yoshinori Shibazaki (an amazing man, google him). Soba means 'buckwheat' and is also used to refer to these buckwheat noodles - characterised by a slight earthy nuttiness and bite, and with great benefits from the many amino acids and vitamins it provides.

Chef Taka-san handles the job every morning and sometimes once more in the afternoon if they've had a particularly busy day. The only thing mechanised about the process is the in-house milling of the Tasmanian buckwheat (as seen in right-hand photo above). Other than that, Chef Taka-san mixes, rolls out, and cuts the noodles himself. It's a beautiful process of years of dedication and precision.
Shiv ordered the tempura soba ($16.00) - warm soup noodle with tempura. (I'm quoting from the menu here, by the way!). He enjoyed it, though I don't think he got as excited as me!
I ordered the seiro soba ($9.00) - chilled plain noodle with dipping sauce. It's their amazing soba noodles served chilled on a zaru, a traditional bamboo mat-slash-basket. Accompanied by a cup of tsuyu, a simple dipping sauce of dashi, mirin and soy, and some spring onions.

When you add the spring onions, then dip a chopstick-ful of soba into the tsuyu and quickly slurp it up, it is just magical. Clean and light - I was in heaven! And yes, you must slurp it up! Very refreshing.
I forget by whom, but I remember being told to add wasabi directly onto the noodles and not into the sauce. So I did. And it was amazing. Every flavour was so delicate!
Normally, I cannot finish an entire serving of noodles on my own because I get full really fast. But here we have a first! I didn't feel heavy or comfortingly sluggish afterwards at all. The one thing I missed was to ask for the sobayu, the water that the soba had been cooked in. Would've been delicious to add some to the left-over tsuyu and drink! Will remember to do this for next time. Because there will definitely be a next time.

All the customers around us were Japanese. If you're not convinced by the amazing food alone, then this is a reassuring little indicator for you too!

I would definitely recommend this place to noodle lovers out there. Or Japanese cuisine lovers. Or just lovers.

The staff are attentive, the beers are below-zero cold (YUM), and of course, the food is wonderful. The seats are cozy, and there's a buzz of comfort inside.

I would recommend this place to everyone. I find it so sweet how proud they are of their noodles, that their mill is out in the open and the workstation is right by the window. I'm keen to head back and try the other dishes they have on offer, like the okonomiyakitamagoyaki or agedashi tofu. Judging from this meal, the other options should be of pretty top-notch quality too!
Love and wasabi coated soba noodles,
Demitasse

Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar
17 Liverpool Street
Melbourne CBD, VIC 3000
+61 (3) 9654 6727
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(Photo of me c/o Shiv Nandwani).

3 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to come here, though sadly the significant other doesn't like Soba at all!

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    1. Oh no way, what a shame! Well just in case, there are a handful of other non-soba-related dishes on the menu as well! Best of both worlds? :] It's so yummy!

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    2. Hey Catherine! Honestly I'm not a big soba fan either. Shimbashi does have a lot more to offer though! IMHO the sake was so good that it would be worth making the trip just for that! Considering heading back soon if Jessi's up for it! :P

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